Relationship Therapist, Dr. Jill Peterman, had the highest-rated call-in radio show when her world was pulled out from under her following the on-air suicide of a female caller named Alexis... See full summary »
Single mother Liz (Lily Collins) thinks she's found the man of her dreams in Ted (Zac Efron). But their seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when Ted is arrested on suspected kidnapping charges, then linked to murders in multiple states. Adamant that he's being framed, the showman and former law student defends himself in America's first nationally televised trial while Liz struggles to come to terms with the truth. Adapted from the nonfiction memoir by Elizabeth Kendall (aka Liz Kloepfer) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile recounts how she was manipulated for years by a seemingly adoring boyfriend, yet future death row inmate, Ted Bundy.Written by
In reality reporter Lucky Severson conducted the jailhouse interview done in the film by director Joe Berlinger as Colorado Jailhouse Reporter. See more »
During the indictment reading in front of the press, the door behind Sherriff Ken Katsaris reads "Miami-Dade County Clerk's Office." During the verdict reading, the clerk of the court begins reading the verdict by announcing, "We the jury, in Miami-Dade County, Florida..." however at the time of the Bundy trial, Miami was part of Dade County. The county name did not change to "Miami-Dade" until 1997. See more »
An interesting approach to the story, but the tone is poorly managed
Directed by Joe Berlinger immediately after completing work on Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019), Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is worth seeing for Zac Efron's performance, but is a strangely muted affair, neither ghoulish warts-and-all carnage nor restrained psychological treatise. Telling the story of Ted Bundy from the perspective of a woman who was oblivious to his true nature is an interesting narrative choice, and had Berlinger stuck to this format, it could have made for a fascinating film. However, the longer it goes on, the more it seems to revel in Bundy's flamboyance, and what begins as an intriguing insider's look at living with a killer soon shifts into an underwhelming courtroom drama, only returning to its original tone in the final (fictional) scene.
The film begins in 1969, the night Bundy (Efron) and nm10616856 (Lily Collins) first met in a Seattle bar. As a single mother with a low-paying job, she is surprised to find this charismatic, handsome, and intelligent law student so interested in her, but interested he is, with the duo quickly falling in love. However, six years later, when he is stopped in Utah for a minor traffic violation, the police find ropes, handcuffs, ski mask, leather gloves, and a crowbar in his car, and he is subsequently charged with and convicted of attempted kidnapping. He vehemently protests his innocence to Liz, and although concerned, she accepts his explanations. However, as police departments across California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Florida start to connect him to a string of recent murders, it becomes harder and harder for Liz to deny there's more to her boyfriend than she ever imagined.
Very loosely based on Liz Kloepfer's memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy (1981), Extremely Wicked was written by Michael Werwie. The hook for the original script was that the audience is unaware the character is Bundy; the film was written as a supposedly fictional story of a young couple whose life is shattered when he is accused of multiple murders, with his real identity only coming as a final act twist. As Berlinger was completing The Ted Bundy Tapes, the script was offered to him, and although he found the twist distasteful, he loved the idea of looking at the Bundy story through the eyes of someone who thought him to be innocent.
One of the biggest appeals of the movie, of course, is the unexpected casting of Zac Efron as Bundy (Efron also serves as executive producer). And it has to be said, he's excellent. Although he doesn't really look like Bundy, he has the mannerisms down to a tee. Especially if you watch the film after the docu-series, you'll really pick up on the depth of the performance; Efron's every movement and gesture, the way he smiles, the way he stands, the tone of his voice, everything is perfect. Of course, Bundy's good looks and charisma were his most formidable weapons as he proved that evil could fester under an attractive façade, and this gives Efron room to manoeuvre, playing every scene in such a way that the subtext is always apparent, although never allowing Bundy's mask to slip. Indeed, it's the absence of any obvious monstrousness in the performance which is so unnerving.
One of the film's most notable components is that, apart from one brief scene near the end, there is no depiction of violence. As Liz's story, the idea is to present Bundy not with the 20/20 hindsight of history, but with the same degree of ambiguity with which she would have viewed him. It's an interesting way into the story and seems a genuine attempt to do something more than simply reproduce the salacious details of the crimes. Of course, if you're making a film about a serial killer which doesn't feature much in the way of serial killing, you're going to need to fill it with something, and in this sense, Berlinger focuses, at least in the first half, on how a killer can lie and manipulate, coming across as completely normal to all who know him. Berlinger has said that the film is about the mechanics of how a person can be "seduced by someone capable of evil", and it was his intention that the audience actually like Bundy, as he wanted them to feel disgust with themselves - just like Liz, he wanted them to be seduced by evil.
However, as admirable as this approach is, the film has a lot of problems. For one thing, because it depicts Bundy not as we now know him but as his contemporaries saw him, it means we only see the performative side, never the monstrous underbelly. Sure, this means that the film avoids exploitation, but in doing so, it could be accused of sanitisation (to be fair, this is something of a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario - show the murders and you're exploiting real-life suffering, don't show them and you're hiding the true nature of his crimes). And granted, portraying him as a possibly innocent man is part of the attempt to explain how Liz could be duped, but all the good intentions in the world don't change the fact that the film's Bundy is a lovable rogue who bites his thumb at the system, not a murderer, a man who raped and butchered a 12-year-old child, and who decapitated multiple women and had sex with their corpses.
I understand that Berlinger wants to depict how Liz could have been blinded by devotion to a man that she thought (correctly, as it turned out) was too good to be true. But the problem is that she herself is never characterised enough for this to work; everything we learn about her is predicated on her relationship with him - there's nothing about her life prior to meeting him, and what we learn about her life after he was convicted is primarily fictional. Additionally, the focus shift halfway through as the film transitions from Liz as subjective focaliser to a more objectively focalised courtroom drama makes very little tonal sense. It's almost as if Berlinger loses interest in Liz when the sensationalist trial begins. This transition reduces Liz to a cycle of watching the trial, crying, doubting his guilt, drinking, watching the trial, crying etc, as she's effectively stripped of what little agency she had in the first half.
Another problem is that we learn nothing new about Bundy himself; there's nothing about his childhood, for example, or how he got away with the murders for so long, whether he really loved Liz, or if he genuinely lacked the ability to feel empathy. Along the same lines, we learn nothing whatsoever about the victims. This was also a problem in the docu-series, but it's far more pronounced here, and because of this, the decision to put the names of his known victims on screen at the end of film is unearned, crass, and meaningless.
The film also makes some strange changes to documented fact, many of which seem designed to make Bundy more sympathetic. For example, there's no mention of the fact that he tried multiple times to pressure Liz into rough sex, particularly choking. Another scene sees him forcibly restrained in his cell whilst a dentist takes impressions of his teeth. In reality, the impressions were taken in a dentist chair, and Bundy quite happily allowed the dentist to work. The film also shows him continuing to try to contact Liz throughout his incarceration. In reality, however, he lost contact with her in the early 80s, and there's no evidence he tried to find her.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is by no means a bad film. But it could have been so much better. The shift from subjective focalisation to court-room drama makes very little sense, and fundamentally undermines what Berlinger seems to have been trying to do. The film initially looks at how evil can hide in plain view, creeping into our lives under the guise of normalcy, but Berlinger allows this theme to recede into the background as he hands the narrative over to Bundy. If this was supposed to be Liz's story, Berlinger takes his eye off the ball badly. And although the film certainly doesn't sympathise with Bundy, and although the decision not to show any of the murders is commendable, the fact is that, yet again, Ted Bundy has become very much the star of his own show.
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